On Monday, the Cannes Film Festival paid tribute to Robert De Niro with a special Official Selection screening of The Weinstein Co’s upcoming boxing drama Hands Of Stone. On hand was Harvey Weinstein, who spoke passionately to the packed house at the Palais about the actor; they go way back and are neighbors in Tribeca. Weinstein, an occasional Deadline contributor, writes about the experience.

hands-of-stone-1I have been coming to this festival for over 30 years and everyone has been asking if I have a favorite moment. There’s been so many, from Roberto Benigni’s La Vita E Bella winning the Grand Prix, or winning the Palme d’Or in a two-way tie for our films Farewell My Concubine and The Piano — and then again the next year for Quentin’s Pulp Fiction. There have been so many memorable experiences I wasn’t able to pick just one. After (Monday) night however, I can honestly say that the highlight of all of my years at the festival isn’t any award but was the tribute to my good friend Robert De Niro at our screening of Hands Of Stone.

Bob is one of a kind. The talent he has, whether on the screen or stage, is clear to anyone who watches him. There’s no limit to the kinds of roles he will take on and nail every single time, which we saw in (Monday) night’s clips from his movies.

Not only has he made a career as one of the most respected actors in the industry, but he has also worked tirelessly to give back to his community. After 9/11 he led the way in rebuilding Tribeca. He served over 30,000 meals out of his restaurant to volunteers and neighborhood residents. The work he’s done with the Tribeca Film Festival has reinvigorated the pride and spirit of New York and given its residents the ability to feel at home again in our city.

I knew the moment he talked us into moving from uptown to Tribeca, and buying into Tribeca as a neighborhood, that our relationship would extend far beyond business. He’s been a great friend and a great ass-kicker even before he knew how badly I’d need it.

The tribute was unlike truly like any other. Edgar Ramirez, who worked so closely with Bob in Hands Of Stone, gave a beautiful speech in English and French that had even myself choking up. In Hands Of Stone we see once again how Bob transforms into his roles. This time as the great boxing trainer Ray Arcel. The film takes us out of the boxing ring and into the life of Roberto Duran and we finally learn the reason behind one of the most famous moments in boxing history, the so called “no mas.” It’s a film that engages audiences, deals with politics, and ultimately is a super entertaining movie. To have that kind of pressure, of taking on a real boxing icon’s true life story that’s never been told so honestly before, is no easy feat. But watching Jonathan (Jakubowicz)’s direction and Bob’s raw talent makes it seem so simple. He, Edgar, Ana, and Usher have such a flawless chemistry in the film.

It was clear by the audience’s 15-minute standing ovation after the film, that they felt the same. The sensation in the theater was palpable. We were hesitant at first when Thierry (Frémaux) and the festival asked us to bring the film. We’re still editing the film, so it was very much a work-in-progress screening. Most people were so moved, including Roberto Duran having just seen his life up on screen.

The other night at a small dinner, Leo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire were there to honor Bob. They told me the only reason they got in the business was from watching Bob as kids. They planned to tell him that at Charles Finch’s dinner, but they were too overwhelmed that evening and couldn’t find the right words. That’s the kind of effect Bob has on people.

There’s a reason that boxing is called the “sweet science.” The combination of the physicality of the sport is juxtaposed by its beauty and grace. There’s an incredible amount of skill that goes into each match, each punch. Bob is a boxer in the truest sense. He uses physicality, he uses his intelligence, and he uses his charm. His strategy, which we talk about in the movie, is one of generosity. His passion and expertise is a force to be reckoned with, coupled with the simplicity and elegance at which he slips into each and every new role. Being able to celebrate him and the years of work he’s given to all of us truly made this year my best Cannes ever.